A God Like Me

Posted by on January 7, 2013 in women | 37 comments

Several weeks ago I was hanging out in my kitchen doing typical housewife stuff–wiping down counters, re-filling sippy cups, making dinner, etc. I typically listen to podcasts when I’m doing stuff like this and that day was no exception. My podcast of choice was a This American Life episode entitled, “Send a Message”.  I was really only half-listening until the third act when I found myself completely engrossed.

The story was told by Sonari Glinton, a NPR reporter, and recounted an experience he had as an African American 4th grader at a Catholic school. The school was run by an Irish nun named Sister Rosemary. Glinton described her as a force of nature who loved the children fiercely. One day Sister Rosemary came into his classroom, got up on a chair and removed the crucifix on the wall and replaced it with another. The difference between the two crucifixes is that the first had a white Jesus on it, the second portrayed a black Jesus. When asked what she was doing, Sister Rosemary replied, “Boys and girls, we’re not sure what Jesus looked like. But we know he probably looked more like you than like me.”

The fact that it was Sister Rosemary who replaced the crucifix and that she did it in front of the children sent an important message these African American kids. As Glinton said,

When you’re a fourth grader, everything is bigger than you. Everyone is smarter than you, older. But when one day you realize that Jesus is just like you, Jesus is black, then everything short of Jesus seems possible…[Sister Rosemary] knew exactly how God should look in my eyes. And luckily enough for me, she was able to show me.

I found myself weeping upon hearing the conclusion of this story, not only because it is beautiful, but because it breaks my heart that I can’t (officially) pray to a god that looks like me. Seeing yourself reflected, whether it be in leadership or God, matters. It matters deeply.

 

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37 Comments

  1. I just listened to that, too! It really struck a chord. I am new to feminism, and to the idea that we should be able to pray to our Heavenly Mother. When I first thought about it, I was really excited and couldn’t wait to start building a relationship with Her. When I mentioned it to my mom she looked at me like I had 3 heads! It broke my heart to be discouraged from seeking Heavenly Mother by my earthly mother. I’m curious, since we can’t as you said ‘officially’ worship and pray to Her, how do you build a relationship with Her? How do you deal with people who think it is wrong?

    • “How do you deal deal with people who think it is wrong?”

      I check my own heart: do I think it is wrong to develop a relationship with the divine feminine? Has the revelation I have received tell me it is wrong to ask about/for her? For me, the answer has been no so I feel free to explore this relationship and ignore those who say I shouldn’t.

      “How do you build a relationship with Her?”

      This is a harder question to answer. I haven’t specifically addressed a prayer to Heavenly Mother but I have stopped praying exclusively to Heavenly Father. Instead, I address my prayers to God which allows me the flexibility to seek revelation from one or both of my Heavenly Parents. Additionally, a lot of the times I have felt God, the feeling has been distinctly feminine which has allowed me to feel that Heavenly Mother wants a relationship with me and that I have permission to reciprocate. Is that helpful? I can expound more if you’d like but I have to run and pick up a family member right now. Thank you for your heartfelt comment!

      • Yes, that really helps! I like what you said about checking your own heart. That seems to be the message that God (feminine and/or masculine :) ) seems to be trying to get through to me recently. This was very thought provoking and timely for me; thank you!

  2. If you worship “Her” then you’re breaking the first great commandment, that is, if you believe in the scriptures. Now, if you want to chunk the scriptures or start a new religion or say you’ve received revelation that the scriptures are in error or whatever, then I’ll understand. But as LDS doctrine is currently constituted, there is no way you should “pray” to a Heavenly Mother. I’m sure it does matter, and that it matters deeply. How do you think other females handle this? I’ve always wondered why a seemingly small number of sisters struggle with this issue. By default, do you also have a problem that a Daughter did not atone for our sins? I don’t know why God doesn’t want us to pray to our Heavenly Mother. I have no answer for it. However, I have to believe, that if it was critical and necessary for us to do it in order to return to their presence, He would (or will) tell us.

    • I’m not convinced that God doesn’t want us to pray to Heavenly Mother. Prayer is communication. While the Savior modeled speaking to his Father, that does not mean it is wrong ever to communicate with your mother. I feel this is especially true of the “prayer in your heart” types of prayers. I will admit that I have never prayed to my Mother in Heaven in any verbal planned way. I have never said the words “Dear Heavenly Mother.” But there are prayers that I feel a mother answers. I have recently faced several deaths in my family and I have cried and cried and cried. In all that grief, it was women on earth who comforted me and I believe it was my mother as well. Those prayers of worry, wondering whether there really is a life after this and if my Grammy is being properly taken care of, worrying that as a non-believer she might be frightened or lost in the afterlife — I think it was my mother who heard those prayers and comforted me.

      There is part of a hymn (not LDS) that my earthly mom loves and it comforted me a lot. It goes
      Her own soft hand shall wipe the tears
      From every weeping eye
      And pains and groans and griefs and fears
      And death itself shall die.

      I can respect church policy that we do not publically pray to our Heavenly Mother. But I deny that God the father would never want us to communicate. I think it is primarily our Heavenly Mother who holds her daughters hands in childbirth, in grief, in loss. She hears our prayers, uttered or unexpressed.

    • Are you arguing that Heavenly Mother is not God? I don’t see how your first statement makes any sense unless you believe that the divine feminine we know as Heavenly Mother–a being revealed by and repeatedly spoken of by prophets–is not included as God. Since I do not believe this, I am breaking no commandment. I also wonder how you know that it is a “seemingly small number of sisters” who struggle with the lack of Heavenly Mother? Every LDS woman I have ever talked to about this subject, and they run the gamut from the very conservative to the more progressive, have expressed pain over not knowing their Heavenly Mother, though some more easily accept the traditional reasons for not knowing her than others. I think you might be conflating the the taboo of speaking about Her with the idea that only a small percentage care. As for your question about the Son being replaced by a Daughter, I don’t personally struggle with that and I feel that those who bring this up are usually making a straw man argument. But if you’re truly interested in how some have re-imagined the story so a Daughter can be included, you might find this interesting: http://signaturebookslibrary.org/?p=4412

      When it comes down to it, I believe in personal revelation and since I have received revelation on this topic, unasked for by me, I sincerely doubt that I need permission from any third party. I think you’d be surprised by how many people agree with me. Thanks for the comment.

    • First, you are very close to breaking our comment policy. Be careful.

      Secondly, Elohim is the Hebrew term from which the bible is translated. It is plural. Therefore, the first commandement, to worship God, can be translated to worship Gods. In modern revelation, we know there is a Heavenly Mother, so it is really very easy to see that the first commandment is inclusive of her. To worship her is not to sin, or to start a new religion, as you have unkindly and wrongly suggested.

      It is against modern church policy to pray directly to Her in public. But having read stroies of soldiers in military gear sharing the sacrament, and having experienced a rural branch wherein the members dress very casually in seasons, therein breaking church policy in dress code to complete what is called the “most important ordinance in the church”, I see no reason why personal prayers- just as personal sacramental situations- bends to the spirit, rather than the letter, of church policy. Indeed, I hope the church policy of dismissing Her is corrected.

      Your other assumptions have no basis. I believe you owe Mraynes an apology.

    • If your interpretation of scripture is correct, and it is breaking the first commandment to worship our Heavenly Mother, then does that mean that deity is not female? Does it mean that women can’t really be like God? If we are to believe LDS theology that godhood is achieved as married pairs, wouldn’t our Heavenly Mother be present wherever Heavenly Father is? I could continue listing questions raised by the doctrine of a heavenly mother, but that would be a long post in itself.

      When you take the time to study it out, there are so many questions raised, quite painful to some women, and so very, very few doctrinal answers. Some of us can rather blithely shelve the questions, particularly if we don’t explore these issues too thoroughly, but there are many others for whom exploration is a given, and the questions and lack of answers cause a great deal of painful dissonance, and speculation born of a desire to ease the cognitive pain. I think a compassionate approach is to not assume sinfulness in anyone’s speculative approach to Heavenly Mother, and certainly not in anyone’s private prayers to Her.

      • I reviewed an article in by BYU Studies on my blog, http://nickelonthenacle.blogspot.com/ . The article is by David L. Paulsen and Martin Pulido and surveys GA statements about Heavenly Mother. Nearly all GA statements agree with the idea that Heavenly Mother is divine and the partner or equal of God.

    • Trying to Understand,
      First of all, I agree with Em that it’s not clear that it is violating scripture to pray to her. Second I agree with others that God is the divine union of the male and female divinities. Third, if you do assume that the speaker of the 10 commandments is God-He and not God-They, then notice the wording: “You shall have no other gods before me.” BEFORE, not other than. If one worships and esteems both Parents equally, that does not break the commandment.

      I for one cannot even begin to wrap my mind around a deity that would punish or condemn me for reaching out towards our Heavenly Parent.

    • I’ve always wondered why a seemingly small number of sisters struggle with this issue.

      I feel like I have multiple personality disorder when I read comments like this, because of the wide range of responses that pop into my head:

      Scientist: How small? May I see your data?
      Scripture Basher: Christ is interested in individuals, not majorities. See 3 Nephi 17:21 and Matthew 18:12.
      Benefit of the Doubt: Yes, it would be odd if it were only a small number of women (or men) who were concerned about such an important theological issue. Don’t worry, if you stick around here long enough, I think you will find that there are many more people who are struggling together to address this.

  3. I was just trying to explain the Heavenly Mother thing to my parents, and why it matters to me. I broke it down like this:

    When missionaries are sent out the are told to write to their MOMS every week. They call home on MOTHER’S Day, not Father’s Day. So why are we cut off from our Heavenly Mother, if earth life is meant to be a representation of heavenly life? It seems to me that the last thing Our Parents told us, was to write home every week to our Mother.

  4. Mraynes, thank you for this. What you felt in listening to this is what I felt when I read The Secret Life of Bees, when the black women are worshiping the black Mary, and one explains to the narrator how such worship has built these women up and made them stand tall and believe in themselves. She explains, “You see, everybody needs a god that looks like them.” Amen and Amen.

    • I LOVE that book, it’s my very favorite! Especially that part!

    • I love that book and part too.

    • I went there too. I love that book, and that phrase made me sob when I read it.

  5. I too found myself crying- in my car in a strip mall parking lot- as I listened to that story a while back. I absolutely LOVED that phrase: Everybody needs a God that looks like them”. I got up to bare my testimony in RS about that and my personal knowledge that I have a Heavenly Mother who loves and guides me. That was kinda scary but I felt I had to share and speak up because what if, what if there was someone there who was searching for a God that looked like Her?

    Also, I’ve been thinking about this song I found as a child in my mothers old tape collection. It’s by Sinead O’Conner and is called “This is to Mother you”. I felt inexplicably drawn to it for years, it struck something I didn’t understand in me. I sang it as a lullaby to my daughters and still didn’t understand why I did because it talks about a mother that wasn’t there for her child, who couldn’t comfort her, and I believed I WAS a good mother who could comfort my daughters. Then, one day, while rocking my second daughter and pondering on my Heavenly Mother, this song came to my head and I realized that (for me) it was a song from my Heavenly Mother. No mother is perfect, only One. Just thought I’d share it. It is beautiful!

    • Miss Rissa,
      That is one of my goals – to someday bear my testimony of Heavenly Mother. I admire you for doing it!

    • Miss Rissa, There was once a whole year where I cried every Sunday when I went to church because I longed for my Heavenly Mother, and nobody was talking about her. One day I realized that I wasn’t talking about her either, and that I could at least change that. On a Fast Sunday I bore my testimony in front of my entire ward about Heavenly Mother. It was one of the bravest things I have ever done, and when I sat down after I still shook for a long time. Afterwards a boy I had never met came up to me and gave me a hug and thanked me for my “non-traditional testimony.” That boy ended up becoming one of the best friends I have ever had, all because I was able to speak the truth I myself needed to hear so desperately.

      This is all to say: way to go! Thank you for being brave too.

  6. What I’m about to say may seem out there,but, not really when you consider the context, Soledad Obrien a reporter for CNN is doing a documentary about skin color and what it means in America. I was listening to a little 7 year old girl who was talking to her mom saying she felt like she was a bad person because she was a dark skinned black person. This made me sad because this little girl was not bad, How can you be bad at seven? But, this is the message that she has been receiving .

    Imagine what she would think if she were Mormon, especially, given the fact, that Mormons taught that African Americans were less than valiant

    It just makes me sad

  7. I appreciate very much the insights into why this matters to some people. Thanks so much for sharing your insights.

    However, I am less than comfortable with the blanket assertion that it matters. Because it may not matter to everyone.

    Some of my favorite books were recently released as audiobooks, and while I often use audiobooks to fill time while I am cooking, folding laundry, etc., I refuse to listen to that series. I already have a voice and vision in my head of those characters, and do not want to have another person’s take on it replace my own unique interpretation. (As a lot of Lord of the Rings fans found happened as a result of the movie.)

    So I am fine with not having a representation of what Heavenly Mother looks like or is. I think it is freeing, because each of us can envision Her in a way that makes sense to each of us.

    I accept that some have a need, but I can’t say I really understand. Other places, MoFeminists claim that the differences between men and women are far less than the church makes out. If that is true, then why does it matter that we have a divine image that looks like us? Please note, I am NOT saying that nobody should have that desire, I am just saying that not everybody does.

  8. I’ve been praying to both Mother and Father for over two years, in private and in our home, it seems right to me. I am not always at church, many reasons, but recently was asked to give the closing prayer in RS. I prayed as I usually do, to Both. No comments. We had a few LDS couples over for dinner last Friday and I said the blessing, again to both Mother and Father, no comments, even tho the bishop were here too. Last year I gave the prayer at my father’s funeral and I prayed to Both – no comments altho one of my brothers took me to task for it weeks later. I do respect how other LDS people feel about praying to Mother but I pray how I pray. However, I have not had any moving experiences where I felt Her presence or heard her voice. To me, it is all logical – we have a Father, we have a Mother. They are both Gods. I talk with both my earthly parents and they care about me , therefore the same for my Heavenly Parents. I’ve often felt jealous of Catholics who have Mary, the Madonna, whom they can worship, talk and pray to openly. I love the various depictions of Mary, especially as the Black Madonna. And I love the many images of Jesus. Google “Images of Jesus” and “Images of the Black Madonna” and you’ll be astounded. I think if I ever actually “see” or “hear” my Heavenly Mother” I will be overcome with such deep joy. Sometimes I wonder if she’s a soft bosomy black woman, or a tall luscious mythic goddess. Or someone like me, who had nine kids and graying hair. Or someone strong like Hillary Clinton or Maya Angelou. Is She like Emma Smith or Eliza R. Snow? We NEED TO KNOW about Her and the time is now, I’m certain. Only when we begin openly speaking of Her and recognizing Her will our world;our families, LDS and other churches, and the larger world, finally have a balance…male and female, yin and yang.

    • I love your courage, Sherry. I am so impressed that you are living out your convictions like this. Brava!

  9. I’m crying just reading your recounting, mraynes. A beautiful and gentle reminder about how hard it can be to not have a god who looks like you.

  10. Wow, mryanes! I love this post! What a sweet thing for Sister Rosemary to do, and what a poignant comparison to Heavenly Mother.

  11. In the Church the doctrine of the plan of salvation/plan of happiness is taught. We believe that doctrine includes all we need to know to improve during this life and return to God. I understand the emotional desire to know more about a Heavenly Mother but logically I can’t understand why it would be so important to know now when God hasn’t revealed more up this point in the history of His children. God has claimed that His ways are higher than our ways- might this be an example of His wisdom in revealing as much as we need to know at this point in our eternal progression? I believe God takes great care in blessing, supporting and guiding our lives. He has asked that we acknowledge His hand in all things.

    • Jace

      Can I ask you a question? I can’t tell from your moniker whether you are a male or female. If you are a male I can understand your statement. God is in your image. He is someone you can easily relate . He is someone who has supposedly given you authority to act in his name. But, consider for a second the little girl that I mentioned in my statement. Already aware at the age of seven of being different and being treated differently because of not only skin color, but, because she is female. This is problem for the church which needs to be address, the church always says one thing, and yet in its practice and teaching does something else entirely.

      • God’s children can all relate to Him. I don’t think it’s a matter of gender or church policy. The way I understand it, this life is the probationary state to be tested with limited information and to exercise faith. It seems unreasonable to me to pray to anyone except the Father without any formal direction from any prophet or scripture at any time. Like I said, I understand the desire to know more, but question the need to know more.

      • Jace, who gave you the right to speak for all of God’s children? I didn’t give you permission to speak for me. If God is a male who subjugates his divine female companion, and tells his daughters that they have different requirements to achieve divinity than his sons, but then does not allow his daughters any contact with their divine role model, then I cannot relate to him. It’s a good thing I don’t believe that is the nature of God. I believe that “God” in the Godhead represents an equal partnership of male and female, and that the reason God has not always been biblically represented this way is due to mankind’s limited understanding. I believe that my relationship with God the Father and God the Mother is nobody’s business but my own, that no third party, not even a prophet, holds a monopoly on my relationship with God. I believe this life is partly a time to be tested with limited information, and partly a time to be actively gaining knowledge and wisdom from our experiences. I very much believe that when God gives us limited directions he expects us to look around at each other, sympathize with each other, and move forward based on what Christ taught was the most important commandment: loving God by loving one another and bearing one another’s burdens. History is filled with people who had a desire and in some cases a need to know more than what was already written. Thank heaven for that because that is how God’s work moves forward. I don’t believe God will hold it against anyone who didn’t have the desire or need or willingness to work to know more, but I do believe he will bless those who do. And I believe he will bless others through those that do have the desire and need and willingness to work for knowledge.

  12. I’m sad. I want a God that looks like me … too.

  13. Jace

    You didn’t answer the question, are you male or female, because then your response makes sense because you have someone to whom you relate. Besides, not all of His children relate to him. Aside from that the general tone of your response seem to indicate that because I (as well as others on this post) want some who reflects our very essence and nature that we are somehow questioning or lacking faith, which shows a basic lack of understanding on your part

    • I am a man, and I don’t think that relates to the information in my post or your point. I’m not interested in trying to prove that I understand you, which you could make impossible, I’m asking for some religious or doctrinal support to show that further information or knowledge on a Heavenly Mother matters so deeply. I think it is great to look for knowledge, search for answers and ask questions. I just don’t think we need to pursue changes in Church policy and make it official when there has been so little revealed.

      • How about this: can you provide some religious or doctrinal support to show that further information or knowledge on a Heavenly Mother doesn’t matter so deeply? It doesn’t make sense to assume that because it hasn’t been revealed formally through the LDS organization yet, it doesn’t matter. How many of God’s children lived and died on the earth with no knowledge of their Savior, Jesus Christ? Does that mean that a knowledge of Him didn’t matter deeply? What a blessing it is to those of us who do have that knowledge.

        I think you can be your own doctrinal proof of why there has been so little revealed. If the male leaders of the church are as ambivalent as you are about knowing their Heavenly Mother, as well as the need of Heavenly Mother’s daughters to know her, then it’s no wonder she hasn’t revealed further knowledge . I’d like to think (hope!) that it’s more likely that the leadership of the LDS church is aware of the need, but is only holding back because the general membership isn’t ready due to a lack of desire to know. In which case, I thank God for personal revelation, and the courage of other women who have shared their experiences with Heavenly Mother for me to add to the precious few things I feel I can say I know about her.

      • First, thank you for finally answering my question, but, the reason why this matters is this,” God makes things in his image,” if this is a true statement, then why would you assume that there would not be a Heavenly Mother? If I am made in His image, than I would have male parts, not female parts.

        Its obvious that these questions sort of freak you out. (not intending to be condescending) but, for male members of the church they have never had to question their place or role. Everything is written in specifics, whereas for me, I get duplicitous disingenuous messages at best and then I get responses like yours which state we don’t need to know because we will be blessed later on. That in lawyer speak is a non answer.

      • I guess I should clarify my position. I really do agree with most of the things that have been presented. I do believe that there is a Heavenly Mother. It doesn’t freak me out in the slightest like Diane might think. I think the image of God is a male and female being but for whatever reason we have an overwhelming majority of our revelation about deity that has to do with the Father and the Son. So much of the rest is speculation and personal opinion- which may not even be wrong. I am not ambivalent and actually do care but am just expressing my opinion which happens to run contrary many opinions on this blog. Some comments make it seem like men just don’t care and I find that to be untrue in many ways.

        I didn’t say that all God’s children do connect with Him, but that they can. I don’t think the existence of Heavenly Mother is critical to this time. I am not aware of any doctrinal evidence that it is important for us, right now, to know these things- unlike revelations about Priesthood, baptisms for the dead, polygamy, or any of those topics. Nor has anyone supplied any evidence that it is critical for this time and state. Knowledge of the Savior was revealed for a very different and specific purpose and has been since before the beginning of time. And those that didn’t know of Him surely will. I don’t believe that if more members cared and pursued knowledge in this area that it would just come and that’s what’s holding it back.

        President Hinckley said, “none of us can add to or diminish the glory of her of whom we have no revealed knowledge.” And also, “May your prayers ascend to Him who is all powerful, who loves you, and who can bring to bear forces and factors which can help you.”

        I think all women (and men) who desire that relationship with a Heavenly Mother will have it in time- I honestly do believe that.

      • “I am not aware of any doctrinal evidence that it is important for us, right now, to know these things”

        Jace, that’s fair. Maybe you really aren’t aware. Maybe you haven’t noticed, but right now, and at least for the past 10-15 years the LDS church has been putting a lot of emphasis on teaching women and girls their divine worth, and divine role as women. Imagine that you’re told that for you and your peers to achieve divinity you must fulfill some requirements. Now imagine that half of you are given one set of requirements, and the other half is given another set of requirements. Some of those requirements overlap, but some are different. Now imagine that one group is given a divine role model to look up to and model their behavior after, while the other group, your group, is given no example, no role model, no contact with their representation of divinity, and must take the other group’s word for it as to how to best achieve their differing set of requirements. Now tell me that there is no doctrinal evidence to show that this information is critical. It really only needs to be important to one of God’s children in order for it to be important to God. And it is important to many more than one.

        As for why at this particular time I think it’s important? Historically, women have lived under very different expectations than men, societal as well as religious. They’ve been passed around like possessions throughout Bible times, even up until the time of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. In the U.S. women have been able to vote for less than 100 years. A right to vote only addresses women’s basic rights as human beings in society. Never mind women having their basic spiritual rights addressed. That explains to me why a knowledge of Heavenly Mother is increasing in importance to many women and men at this time. I think that until relatively recently the global attitude towards women has been too far from Godly principles for many to even comprehend what our Heavenly Mother is really like. If the LDS church, or even the Bible had taught more about Heavenly Mother before now, I’m afraid they would have been trying to teach a veiled subservient version of her that just doesn’t exist. I think (hope!) we’re getting very close to being ready.

        For me personally the importance goes a bit deeper because I don’t believe that the requirements for divinity differ from gender to gender as much as the LDS church has traditionally taught, and the LDS church is kind of teetering non-committally on the edge of a change in doctrine regarding that. Up until recently the LDS church has not taught that husbands and wives should be equal partners. Now they do, but only tentatively in lesson manuals and conference talks . Other sources like the proclamation on the Family teach a contradictory message that men are to preside, and women to help as an equal partner. Others, like temple covenants, still place men as the presiding authority and women as veiled followers. That’s pretty darn confusing if you’re trying to figure out how to best fulfill your divine potential as a woman. For me, the importance and urgency is kind of a “put up or shut up”. Because I believe I’ve found my Heavenly Mother on my own, through my own connection to God, because LDS teachings weren’t meeting my spiritual needs. At this point, I need to take my instructions on how to achieve divine womanhood directly from Her, rather than anyone who can’t tell me anything about Her and tells me I shouldn’t be talking to Her, but still insists that they know better than me how I can become more like Her.

  14. I seldom respond; I just enjoy these posts. However I am going to suggest to Jace that he review how changes in doctrine happened–because someone was considering a part of the story as incomplete. Clarification was received. Whether it was the doctrine on baptisms for the dead, Section 138 in the D and C, or the privilege of the power of God going to all worthy males in 1978, it happened because someone or several someones questioned what was known. I would submit that since Eliza R. Snow wrote her poem, there has been the privilege of at least personal knowledge of Heavenly Mother.

    I am cautious about saying the next part because I want to state outright that I am not trying to stereotype. Just one of the reasons it really matters is because some women, lacking a father figure who is upright enough to form a relationship with, or who have been in abusive situations with their father or husband, have huge, huge issues with conceiving of a loving Heavenly Father. For these women and many others, they are unable to approach a relationship with Father or with Jesus Christ initially. Being able to conceptualize the feminine Divine, KNOWING that there is a Someone who loves them, and that She can help them pave the way to a relationship with their Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ as well, which completes their relationships with God.

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